Sophia Popov became the improbable winner of the AIG Women’s British Open on Sunday, earning LPGA status for the 2020 season.
But that season won’t start until the Cambia Portland Classic because amazingly, she’s not in the ANA Inspiration field.
How is that possible?
Because the LPGA’s majors are out of order due to COVID-19, Popov’s five-year exemption won’t start until 2021. An LPGA official explained that since the ANA field was basically filled when the tour had to shut down, they’ve chosen to honor that field. The only exemption adjustment was changing the cutoff for top 20 on the money list.
But because Popov, 28, isn’t an LPGA member (she missed out on her card by a single shot last fall at Q-Series), her $675,000 earnings won’t count as official money.
The victory does put Popov into the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in October. It does not, however, get her into the U.S. Women’s Open in December. Like the ANA, her five-year exemption into the Women’s Open begins next year at the Olympic Club.
How does a Symetra Tour player qualify for a major by finishing ninth at the Marathon LPGA Classic but yet a victory at a major championship doesn’t get her into the rest of the majors for 2020?
Surely there’s an exemption (or two) somewhere with Popov’s name on it.
Her story is too extraordinary to deny. A woman ranked No. 304 in the world who won three times on a desert mini tour during the COVID-19 break didn’t just win at Royal Troon, she marched to victory like a grizzled Hall of Famer.
It was a story for the ages, and fans want to see it continue next month at the Dinah Shore Tournament Course. Popov deserves that. Instead, the earliest she can get back out on the tour is Portland – the week after the ANA.
In this era of COVID-19 protocols and asterisks, why not make an exception?
“There was a lot of hard work behind it,” Popov said after the tournament, “a lot of struggles that I went through the past six years … I knew I was capable. I had a lot of obstacles thrown my way, and I’m glad I stuck with it.
“I almost quit playing last year. Thank God I didn’t.”
The major parade should just be getting started for the sensational Popov. The powers that be must make it happen.